Politics and Government

Kamala Harris will become the first woman to give a West Point commencement speech

Vice President Kamala Harris delivers the keynote address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy's 141st commencement exercises on May 18, 2022, in New London, Conn.
Vice President Kamala Harris delivers the keynote address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy's 141st commencement exercises on May 18, 2022, in New London, Conn.
Stephen Dunn/AP

Vice President Kamala Harris will deliver the keynote speech at West Point's graduation ceremony on Saturday, making her the first woman to give a commencement address in the military academy's 221-year history.

"We are honored to have the Vice President as our commencement speaker," said West Point's superintendent, Lt. Gen. Steven W. Gilland, in a statement. "As an accomplished leader who has achieved significant milestones throughout her career, we look forward to her inspiring remarks to our cadets."

Traditionally, vice presidents have delivered the commencement speech to graduating classes at U.S. military academies.

Last year, Harris gave the commencement address to U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduates, and in 2021, she became the first female commencement speaker at the U.S. Naval Academy.

President Biden, meanwhile, is set to speak at this year's U.S. Air Force Academy graduation. Earlier this month, he spoke at Howard University's commencement ceremony.

As vice president, Biden delivered West Point's commencement speech in 2016.

When asked why it's taken so long for a woman to serve as commencement speaker, a West Point spokesperson only said that the role usually rotates among senior leadership within the academy's chain of command, which includes the president, vice president, secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs.

Historically, men have largely held those senior positions in government. Although deputy secretaries of defense have delivered commencement addresses at West Point in the past, Kathleen Hicks — who became the first female deputy defense secretary in 2021 — has not yet spoken at the school's commencement.

As for the school itself, women didn't start attending West Point until 1976 — a year after Congress passed legislation that allowed women to enroll at the federal service academies. In 1980, Andrea Hollen became the first of 62 pioneering women to graduate from West Point. Since then, more than 5,000 women have graduated from the military academy.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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